Tag: OTR

Once More to The Vestibule of Hell

stevetrucker2This is yet another post that was languishing over at the WordPress site.

September 27, 2016

“Stay away from Dallas”. 

This sage advice is from me to myself.  I am in Denton, Texas, “sitting in a door” awaiting the unloading of produce from California.  A “preplan” has just come across the satellite link that tells me my next load will be picking up at the Coca Cola Syrup Plant in Dallas.  The destination is Denver for 840 miles – a two day trip that will undoubtedly be stretched into four days, as we discussed in earlier Chapters.  But, I accept the load because I really have no choice.

Now for the Rest of the Story:  A note from someone named Billy  says I should bring my load to the Yard.  So, you see the lesson is clear:  Stay away from Dallas.

I called my Driver Manager to Confirm this – since I have no idea who “Billy” is – and, yes I have to make an appearance in Purgatory (not the ski resort (NTSR)).  One reason is a physical exam , after the third such in the last nine months.  I passed them all, by the way.  The first and third exams  had a one year renewal.  But, since my livelihood is apparently a low priority, I have to go in for a forth.  Today is Friday.  Since it its nearly 4 PM and the light is still red – meaning I cannot yet leave the door – there is no way I can get there during “office hours” – and I suspect the Doctors do not work on Weekends.  So, unless I miss my guess, this will be three or possibly four more days of  ungainful unemployment.

The unloaded message from Target has come.  The light is still red but when it changes I can go to Coca Cola and then to Purgatory (NTSR).  Meanwhile, my clock has run out completely and utterly.  The Coca Cola Plant policy is – as I many times said as a bartender – “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”.  I had told the shipping clerk that if I could not be loaded in two hours, I would come back in the morning.  That particular clerk was not among the Polite and Helpful Shipping Personnel of whom I have written before. He ignored my advice completely.

While the clock was ticking down, – in anticipation of what finally did occur – I had called “Night Safety” and asked for advice.  Their sage counsel was basically this: “Call me when you actually fall off the cliff.”

One thing I have learned in this occupation (maybe I should start a list) is:  When you have an insoluble problem, ask the people in the plant because they have seen this a hundred times before,”  The first choice is the Yard Tractor Guy,  If he is unavailable (being very busy), ask the man who brings you your paperwork.  That helpful and cheerful individual clued me in to some big parking lots to be found about a half mile away.  I chose a Lowes lot, because, on the way in I had stopped there to confirm directions.  There was an old trailer parked there that I could hide behind to avoid any questions from the Local Constabulary.

I was officially “off duty” and I creeping the truck at 10 MPH – flashers going – I manage to stay that way to find the Lowes.  I also find another truck who has taken my hiding place behind the abandoned trailer.  One look by the loading docks finds tow-away warnings with certain words in bold font.  There was, however a string of about 10 conventional parking spots – off the side of the building, but in full view of the street.

Calling Night Safety is no longer useful since they may  well tell me to move.  And I have no confidence in their advice now anyway.  So, I mentally prepare my defense for the sin of parking.

  1. That sign that says no parking anytime (with emphasis) cannot possibly apply to me here because: What are these spaces between the eight lines that I am parked over?  That’s right – “Parking Spaces!”
  2. Yes, I have taken nine of them, but I can point to hundreds of empty spaces out in front of the store.
  3. I have every right to park here, because I am a customer. I need to buy a screwdriver.  I find that the store is closed now, but I don’t mind waiting.
  4. I will be leaving at 4:30 AM. Please tell me if the other spaces fill up before then.

September 27, 2016 Pilot truck Stop outside Amarillo, Texas

Back in Purgatory

The “Yard” is a singularly depressing place.  Every driver there is earning nothing. When I arrive, I am handed a list of tasks I must accomplish in order to escape Purgatory (NTSR).  I find that I will be here at least three days between safety lectures and the physical exam.  A few of the safety items are accomplished before the office staff goes home at noon, Saturday.  The remainder must wait until Monday.  With few exceptions, every driver here is trapped without transportation.  You don’t just drive these trucks when you think you want to go somewhere – you must be “dispatched” and you won’t be, until your list is complete and signed off.  There are two “loaner” cars for the untold hundreds of drivers.  The waiting list is three hours long and the car must be returned within one hour. The entirety of Saturday afternoon was consumed with one trip to Walmart.  This was urgent, since the truck’s food supply has dwindled to “Spam Rations”.

Sunday was shaping up to be especially dismal, having literally nothing to advance the cause of getting out of Purgatory (NTSR).  I thought of my son Benjamin now attending college classes about 50 miles from Purgatory.  I would like to visit him, but that would be a trip out of the one-hour-loaner-car range.  A taxi is financially counter-indicated in my current circumstances.  Fortunately, Dallas has an extensive mass-transit rail system that nobody seems to know about. I hatched a plot to make a Great Railway Journey to The University of Texas at Dallas (which is really in Richardson, Texas).  Some research came up with this route:

Take the 597 bus that stops right in front of Purgatory (NTSR).  That takes me to Lawn View train station.  From there I take the Green line downtown and transfer to the Red Line which takes me almost to Plano.  I get off at City Line/Bush station and take the 883 UTD shuttle.  About two hours and fifteen minutes each way.  Since the alternative was to cool my heals in Purgatory, I decided to make the journey.  The price was right, being a five-dollar day pass.  I noticed that it was good until Three AM the next day.  I am quite sure this is because bars close at Two.

bustrainroutebenjamin

Above:  The trip plan to UT Dallas.  The Astute Reader will notice that this is actually a picture of the return route.

img_1885Above: The Green Line station at Lawn View

img_1893Above: Benjamin’s Dormitory Building.  His window is third from the left on the second floor. Like almost every building on Campus, it is very new.

img_1894Above:  The lobby at Benjamins Dorm.

img_1895Above:  Benjamin

So, instead of a depressing and lonely vigil of hopelessness, Sunday had become an interesting trip to spend some time with my beloved son.  There is, after all a reason not to avoid Dallas.  For this much-needed relief I was truly thankful.

Benjamin took me to lunch and then we went shopping at Walmart.  That was yet another bus ride.  The stop outside Walmart was littered with abandoned shopping carts. I, your humble narrator, pointed out (ostensibly to Benjamin, but meant to be overheard by the mass of scholars there assembled) that the arriving student-shoppers could choose a cart from this stash and take it in with them.  I set them an example, but none of the “Future of America” saw fit to join me.  They did select carts at the door, however.  And no doubt they added to the collection at the bus stop on the way out.

img_1896Above:  The bus stop at Walmart

img_1903Above:  City Line / Bush Station, on the way back to Purgatory.  The emergency equipment was  there when I arrived for some poor commuter who somehow fell and was trapped between the bench and the partition that you see under the awning at left.  I didn’t rush over and photograph him, since I am sure he was dying of embarrassment, in addition to the nasty bruises I noticed as they put him in the ambulance.

There is some good that comes of this unwilling visit to Purgatory.  Mechanics replaced the duct taped improvised oil filler cap that I made from a fish oil pill bottle with a real oil cap and replaced the lost oil – five gallons of same. They also repaired the tractor suspension airbag that was leaking.  While I was in safety class and getting my blood pressure checked, they replaced my cracked windshield.  They transferred the EZ pass for tolls and the Prepass indicator for weigh stations to the new windshield.  One particular windshield-mounted item did not make the transition and I won’t miss it one bit.     (Update:  Since I am no longer employed by Stevens Transport I can tell you that the item in question was the “1984 – Big Brother Camera” (84BBC) that watched over me for those months before the windshield was replaced.  I did not mention it before because, in my Paranoia, I imagined that Stevens might read my blog and call me again to Purgatory for a replacement of the 84BBC.)

There was also a problem with the air-suspension seats, which tend to leak down while the engine is off and leave the driver looking eye-level at the steering wheel.  They did not get to that problem of the leaking seats but I can live with those.  When the engine is running the seats rise to comfortable height.  It would have taken longer and I needed to get on the road to actually earn a living.

On Monday, after all my assigned tasks were complete, I received a load assignment to take bottled soft drinks to Denver.

Over The Road,

Steve

Purgatory

SteveTrucker2

MarilusLogo

August 7, 2016

Purgatory

[pur-guh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]

  1. any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.

    I am now “on the Yard” at company headquarters.  I have dropped my trailer and been assigned another truck.  This one is a real mystery.  A Kenworth T680 built in November, 2013.  It looks almost new, drives and shifts smoothly and is “clean as a whistle”.  The odometer reads 35,000 miles.  And that would seem impossible.

This truck has been “on the fleet” for two and a half years and should have at least five or six times that mileage.  The Peterbilt is just about that old and it has 385,000 miles. While I am lucky to have such a low mileage vehicle, I can’t help but wonder what the story is behind this machine.  One thing that is completely out of place in this story is the condition of the forward drive axle.  Its tires are nearly at the legal minimum for tread  depth, while its brother’s tires to the rear are almost new.  I have requested that these tires (the baldies, that is) be replaced.

I pull up the Kenworth “across the bow” of the Peterbilt to transfer the refrigerator first and then all my other possessions.  It can’t stay there long, but I don’t need long.  Next I swap the Peterbilt out of the “good” parking spot and put the Kenworth into same.   I drove the Peterbilt over by the garage where I would turn in the keys in the morning.  Then, I collapsed in the Kenworth because what I just described was a lot of work.  Fortunately, the Kenworth has a working Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) that keeps the cabin habitable through the hot Dallas evening.

12946.jpg

Above: 2014 model Kenworth T680 – 12946.  Note the windshield shade with cool-looking beach scene.  It reflects the heat ,  yes.  But more importantly, it marks my truck so I can find it later.  Please see “Tractor Row” below for explanation.

TractorRowDay.jpgAbove:  “Tractor Row” The one with the cool-looking beach scene in the windshield is mine.

CaptainsDesk12946Above:  The Kenworth has a desk that does not look like a piece of plywood.

PurgatoryAbove:  Purgatory’s Backside.  The small building in the foreground has the driver’s lounge where trucker stereotypes are preserved by drivers leaving their empty soda bottles and pizza cartons strewn across the tables and floors while the trash cans in the room remain empty.

In the morning, I have lots to do before I am allowed to leave the Yard.  These activities include safety lectures and dealing with “compliance” (recordkeeping to comply with federal regulations on driving time – it’s complicated).  Then I need my Driver Manager’s approval and that of “Central Clearance” – they check all my registrations and paperwork. I cannot get my truck out the gate without all these items ticked off the list.  And those tires I requested apparently are still being manufactured and will be shipped out by mule train sometime next week.

Fact is, I don’t have a load, yet anyway, so there is nowhere to go.  And, it does not matter anyway because all the people who can provide “approval” for my departure have gone home at noon, today, Saturday.  They will not return until Monday when dozens of other drivers – trapped in Purgatory with me – will compete to get their clearance.  So, another two days (minimum) of no income. This has become a recurring theme in the “high-paying-job-as-a-professional-truck-driver”.

Farewell 12573 – We Hardly Knew Ye!

SteveTrucker2

August 5, 2016       Garland, Texas     homepage


I am reminded that today is Christmas Day

                    So, Please also have a look at this Christmas Classic

I have been instructed to report to the “Yard” in Dallas and turn in my truck.  It has apparently been sold.    I asked how long it might take  to get a new truck.  The answer was “Depends”.  I should have replied, “No, Fruit of the Loom – briefs” but my comedic reflexes are slow these days.

The last time I was issued a truck, I expected a worst case scenario.  Specifically, since I had driven and was familiar with Kenworths and Freightliners in training, that I would be issued a Peterbilt.  Good instincts, as it turns out.  The clutch gave me trouble from the start, with what is called “clutch chatter”.  Not severe and the only other Peterbilt I had driven (only for a half hour or so) had the same problem. In any case, the clutch was a body-builder tool and I was soon walking with a limp because of all the excess muscle in my left leg.  Not a big problem, until it was a big problem.

The last episode of mechanical adversity cost me ten days of poverty.  The company pays an insulting $25 per day for breakdowns after the first two days.  The company wanted to nickel-and-dime the hotel. I would have to call and get authorization every day.  We tried that on check-in and they refused the company card so  I covered the hotel with my own credit card and expensed it back to avoid looking like a deadbeat every afternoon.   They have at least reimbursed me for that.  They tend to treat drivers as people with no financial means whatsoever.  That is probably appropriate considering the level of remuneration.

One wonders what delays are in store for the next truck.

12573Anon

Above is the Peterbilt in question as we “sit in a door” in Garland, Texas.  The “lumpers” unload for hours while the driver kills time…taking photos, say.  This receiver was mercifully quick and I left no more than three hours after arrival.  From here I go to the “Yard”…Company Headquarters.  There, to put the old mare out to pasture (tractors are female and trailers, male by virtue of their “connecting equipment”).

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Loves Truck Stop, Interstate 70, exit 304, Bennett, Colorado (Near Denver), December 20, 2016

  I find myself back in the Temperate Zone where “the rocks don’t melt and the air doesn’t freeze”   (from “Earthlight” by Arthur C. Clarke).  The temperature has risen above freezing for the first time since I left the Texas Panhandle on December  8th

    One of eight drive tires threw a piece of retread somewhere in Oregon or Idaho on Saturday.  I have to report these things and they did want me to have it replaced.  But, they left the time and place up to me.  Loves is known for its tire service and there is this one, conveniently near Denver and by a strange coincidence, right next to a Supermarket where I can replenish the Ship’s Galley.  See how that works out?

    I am suffering from a sort of sensory overload after the journey through the Northwest.  I was also exhausted physically and this long break (now more than 20 hours) has been much appreciated.  I have a persistent pain in my right shoulder that must come from shifting, since there is only a burning ache in the left shoulder.  I have slept away yesterday afternoon and the night, with only a few trips across the snow-turned-slush to the facilities. This is when pedestrian activities become hazardous.  The slush melts first to reveal the black ice that was there before.  The path to the restroom is also punctuated with small diesel spills (still liquid and slicker than the legendary Owl-droppings) that spread considerably. 

   The APU heater is still totally inadequate and I am forced to idle the engine every few hours to maintain sane temperatures in the sleeper.  That has worked out until now, when I see the low fuel light burning constantly.  Overnight, the fuel level has dwindled to below the “Empty” mark and I am typing with gloves on and not idling until I can drive over to the pumps and get twenty gallons that I need for the trip to the Company-mandated fuel stop near the delivery. 

    So why, you may ask. have I not done so already?  I have to log fuel stops as “on duty”.  That means I would start the 14 hour clock and limit my drive time for after the delivery, when a new load assignment comes around.

   This is where over-regulation leaves me:  shivering in my truck just a hundred feet from more fuel of which I am not allowed to partake.

   The time has come to start the countdown for departure.  I don’t know what path the drive will take, but I almost certainly will be far from Colorado tonight.  God help me, I do love it so!

paramountcrop Above:  I did not capture this image from a Paramount movie trailer.  It was a road photo opportunity in Washington State.  

At the Receiver Staging Area in Denver, Colorado, December 20, 2016  1400 CST

 The temperature is now 60° F – Looxury!  (see 2 min. 11 sec).   Like just about every other Houstonian, I face really cold weather with the “layered look” – you keep putting on sweaters and light jackets and sweat pants until the you feel better. I am removing a layer of clothes.

Sitting in a Door at the Receiver in Denver, Colorado, December 20, 2016  2000 CST

After hours waiting for the unloading, the warehouseman comes out and tells me to pull out and park until called. 

restareapicnictablesnow Above:  How snow accumulates on a rest area picnic table

towersvolcanonecks4 Towers like this in Wyoming are the cores of volcanoes that are exposed when the rest of the structure is eroded away.   You may remember Devil’s Tower from  the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  It is not far from here.

 terracentowerspristine

Around every bend is another stunning vista.

 Pilot Travel Center Interstate 70 exit 276A, Denver Colorado December 22, 2016 10:40

    I had spent nine hours in the Receiver’s Distribution Center (DC) when they finally called to give me the paperwork.  By then it was after midnight.  I had no load assignment  and the chances of finding a parking space anywhere is about zero.  So, after being held at the receiver for so long, it is ironic that the best course of action is to stay put and go to sleep.  The DC staff is skeletal and only a few other trucks are in the doors or the parking across from same.  Facilities are nearby and if they want me out they would come an tell me.

At about 6:00 local I moved the truck here to the Pilot.  Since there was no load assignment forthcoming, I took the opportunity to make a 34 hour break.  This is the same truck stop where I based the Most Excellent Day in Denver .

Another lesson learned in the Walkabout is that one does not just wander off into the world at random – there must be a Destination.  It need not be mandatory or even significant and it can be changed at any moment to some other destination.  You may think it odd that this rule comes out of a Walkabout, since wandering off would seem to be the very definition of “Walkabout”.  But, the “Walker” is supposed to learn new insights and so forth, so I reckon that redefining “Walkabout” is fair game.

I am a Geophysicist – albeit an inactive one.  Many of the people I worked with in those years studied at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.  Checking with the Denver Transit (RTD) Website, I find that Golden is the final stop on the W train line that leaves from Union Station and goes West.  Now, the Campus will be pretty much shut down for the holidays, but I find there is a Geology Museum on campus that will still be open.

And there we have our destination.

The journey starts at the bus stop across the road.  The 44 bus takes me to the Light Rail Station

theatrainTake the “A” Train   My ride pulls in at the 40th & Colorado Boulevard Station 

From there, I transfer downtown at Union Station where the guts of the transit hub are underground.  The ancient Station now houses a big food court and shopping center.

UnionStation.jpgUnion Station Emeritus

TheCoalTrain.jpg On a siding at Union Station, Warren Buffet’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is busy moving coal to the utilities that keep your lights on while the windmills are becalmed and the Solar plants experience a thing called “nighttime”.  For a Learned Discussion on this subject, please see my article “Changing Energy Use in the United States”.

 thewtrain

This is the W train out of Union Station, bound for Golden.

arrivingingoldenArriving in Golden

Museum.jpgA mine ore cart welcomes visitors

There are a great many fascinating specimens of minerals and ores.  I will show a few examples, but this is again something that needs to be experience in person to fully appreciate.

goldnuggetswirescu

Well, here we are in Golden Colorado and you might expect to see examples of gold nuggets.  These are rare crystalline  pieces, some with elaborate natural wire formations.  I have zoomed in on a few examples to show detail.

SilverPitcher'.jpgThis elaborate pitcher is made of 72 troy ounces of “11 once silver” (11 parts silver to one of copper) from the Last Chance Mine in Creed Camp, Colorado

CarbideLamps.jpgThese are Carbide Lamps, used by miners.  Water drips onto Calcium Carbonate, generating Acetylene gas (C2H2) which burns with a bright white light.  Such lamps were also used in the Early 20th Century for domestic and public lighting.  The early Model T Fords had Carbide Headlamps.  There were some interactions of these lamps with Coalbed Methane in mines.  You can imagine the results.

gold

Granitic Gold ore from the Independence Mine

foolsgoldIron Pyrite is know as “Fools Gold” for its color.  But, as you see, its crystal forms are quite different from anything seen in genuine Gold.

 trilobites The Museum also has some fossils.  These Trilobites date to the Ordovician Period (488 to 444 Million years ago)

periodictableAfter the Museum, I went looking for a place to have coffee and charge my phone/camera.  I found a food court called “The Periodic Table” in the Student Union.  This being the Holiday Break, the place was deserted  and the shops closed.  So, I had my bottled water and road snacks, which I had wisely brought along while I charged the iPhone from one of the outlets placed about everywhere.  You see some under the bench seat in the foreground.  These are Students after all – armed with every battery-operated gadget their parents can buy.

 Plaza.jpgFrom the Doors of the Student Union.

 MesaBrownHall.jpg

The School has a Unique Geological Setting, as Well.

Upon returning to the Pilot, I found the truck waiting patiently.  I did some house cleaning, took care of some Insurance matters (an hour and a half on the phone) for my invalid step-mother and grabbed a shower.  At 18:30 I left for Kansas, there to take on a load of meat bound for Brooklyn, NY and Hackensack, New Jersey.

Over the Road,

Steve